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Canelo Alvarez responds to the claims that he's a drug cheat

Sports columnist Dylan Hernandez sits down with Canelo Alvarez.

Canelo Alvarez started fighting for money at the age of 15 and has exchanged punches with some of the scariest men on the planet. Of course he could answer questions about his failed drug test without losing his composure.

“It doesn’t bother me,” he said, in Spanish, of the perception that he’s a drug cheat.

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Alvarez spoke deliberately and softly, as he normally does. He might as well have been talking about installing a car seat for his 7-month-old daughter.

Continuing to make the case that the clenbuterol discovered in his system earlier this year was ingested by accident, Alvarez said he was “always moving forward, standing tall, certain of what I am and what I’ve done.”

His words and demeanor were convincing, but the history of doping scandals makes this much clear: Only Alvarez knows if he intentionally used the drug to enhance his performance.

What could be ascertained by listening to him talk and watching him train for a couple of hours recently at his San Diego gymnasium was this: He isn’t a distracted fighter.

Maybe he really is secure in the truth, as he claimed. Or maybe he has simply blocked out the noise around him. Whatever the case, the smart money is on the Mexican middleweight being unaffected by the controversy when he returns to T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas for a Sept. 15 rematch against Gennady Golovkin.

The fight was scheduled for May 5, only to be postponed when Alvarez tested positive for clenbuterol. Alvarez said he was shocked by the news but never panicked over what could happen to his career.

“I always remained calm,” he said. “In time, things would be clarified by the tests they gave me. In my mind, I didn’t have to be thinking about it or, much less, lower my head.”

The tests include a hair follicle examination, which tested negative for clenbuterol. The results supported the assertion made by Alvarez’s camp that he must have ingested the substance eating meat in his native Mexico. Many of the country’s farmers give the drug to their cattle to accelerate their growth, resulting in contaminated beef. Then again, the hair follicle test isn’t considered 100% reliable.

Canelo Alvarez works out at his training facility in San Diego.
Canelo Alvarez works out at his training facility in San Diego. (Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Alvarez didn’t have a problem with the six-month suspension he received from the Nevada Athletic Commission.

“They knew it wasn’t intentional, but you have to respect the rules, too,” said Alvarez, who said he didn’t know where he might have consumed tainted meat.

But as much as Alvarez claimed to be unperturbed by the scandal, there were signs that it weighed on him.

He participated in a promotional news conference via satellite rather than appear in person, creating the impression he was in hiding. Alvarez countered by pointing to how he has opened his training camp in recent weeks to select media outlets.

“I’m here,” he said.

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Alvarez acknowledged he was bothered by how Golovkin and his trainer, Abel Sanchez, accused him of cheating. He was especially irked by Golovkin’s demand for a 50-50 purse split when it came time to renegotiate the terms of the rescheduled rematch. Before Alvarez’s suspension, Golovkin agreed to a 35% share. Ultimately, Golovkin settled for a little more than 40%.

“He comes out and he says he doesn’t do it for money, that he does it more to fight,” Alvarez said. “That type that says, ‘I don’t do it for money,’ that’s what he does it for.”

His voice remained soft as he said this. That didn’t change as he matter-of-factly predicted a knockout victory in the rematch.

He said he hurt Golovkin to both the body and head in the first fight.

“And with gloves with more padding,” Alvarez pointed out.

The choice of gloves was dictated by an injury to his right hand that he sustained in training. In the rematch, he expects to wear gloves with less padding over the knuckles.

“I’m going to start working in the first round to knock him out,” he said.

Canelo Alvarez shadow-boxes in a mirror during his workout at his training facility.
Canelo Alvarez shadow-boxes in a mirror during his workout at his training facility. (Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Doing so would be the ultimate redemption. Alvarez re-enlisted in an anti-doping program, which he estimates has subjected him to 15 to 20 drug tests in recent months. Regardless of how effective such programs are in reality, the public will assume he’s clean for the rematch so long as he doesn’t fail another test. A clear victory over Golovkin likely would be enough to convince spectators that Alvarez was drug-free in their fight last year.

But Alvarez isn’t convinced he can change people’s minds.

“The people who have doubts about me or are always going to talk about me, I’m not going to change their minds,” he said. “They’re always going to be against me.”

At least he’s consistent in his thinking. In his mind he’s already been vindicated by the hair follicle examination, so any suspicions are just the result of people trying to find fault with him.

Not everyone will buy that narrative, but they don’t have to. Only Alvarez does. He’s the one who has to feel secure enough to take on Golovkin again.

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